/ Food & Drink, Health

Is organic food actually better for you?

A Stanford University study has suggested that there’s no robust evidence to support the idea that eating organic is healthier than non-organic food. Is eating organic better for you – or just clever marketing?

Organic. The very word makes me feel more nourished and wholesome.

I’m a Londoner – I ingest enough toxins from my daily commute. I don’t need more from my food. But organic does burn a bigger hole in my food shopping fund. Is it worth paying a premium to go organic?

Organic food and you

Stanford Uni’s research looked at 240 studies of nutrient levels in food and nutrition levels in humans, and found no robust evidence to suggest that organic food is nutritionally better for you than food that has been conventionally produced.

This backs up the findings of an independent 2009 report commissioned by the Food Standards Agency which took 50 years of studies into consideration and found there to be no important differences in nutritional value between the two. Even our own Gardening team’s small-scale trial found that the veg they grew non-organically tasted better, had more nutrients and often higher yields.

Yet, not all reports back up Stanford Uni’s findings. The US watchdog Consumer Reports questions the media’s coverage of the research, pointing out its ‘severe limitations’. For example, some of the studies Stanford Uni looked at did find nutritional benefits to eating organic.

Organic food and the environment

Advocates of organic food argue that it’s not all about whether the food is nutritionally better for you. There’s the question of exposure to pesticides and fertilizers, which sound like things you’d want to avoid when you’re eating your five-a-day.

Stanford Uni’s review did actually find that organic food is 30% less likely to include pesticides, but whether exposure to these agro-chemical residues make a difference to how healthy you are is another question.

There’s also the environment to think about. In our Convo on organic gardening, Emma said:

‘We cannot carry on poisoning the land and watercourses with pesticides and destroying every living creature in the garden just to deal with a few pest species. Organic gardening is about living in balance with nature and that for me is the most important aspect of it.’

Another review, this time by Oxford Uni, found that although organic farms produced less pollution by land area, per unit of food they produced more than their non-organic counterparts. Still, the organic farms did have better soil and were home to more species.

Is organic always the answer?

These recent studies have reignited interesting questions that are at the heart of eating organic – is the impact on the environment as significant as you think it is? Is it really healthier than non-organic food?

Personally, I think there other ways to guarantee your food is healthy and good for the environment. Growing your own or buying local produce, seems more important to me than buying organic that’s shipped in from afar. Fairtrade, which helps towards sustainability and poverty alleviation, is also the label I tend to look out for more.

But perhaps that’s by the by? Are you an organic advocate or sitting on the farming fence?

Comments
Member

I eat organic food when I can as it means I am not taking in any pesticides, fungicides or other nasties.
That aside I don’t think non-organic food is any different.

Member

Great theory, red kite, but are you aware that aflatoxin levels can be substantially higher in organic food containing cereals? These are mycotoxins produced by moulds, and can cause organ damage and cancer. This is fairly well known but producers choose only to mention only the benefits of organic foods.

Member
RAZOR says:
25 February 2015

Hey mate I think ur rite dude

Member

The nutritional value of the food is only one dimension of the organic objective. The different pest control and fertiliser methods in organic farming makes it less toxic to the environment. The animal husbandry practised in the production of meat products is more humane and less intense than the in rest of the farming industry.
IMO these reasons are sufficient in themselves to justify organic food.

Member

Agree with the previous two posters – I eat organic whenever possible NOT because of the taste – but because it is better for the planet. Intensive farming is not the way to go in any way shape or form.

Member

It’s all very well to say intensive farming is not the way to go but maybe you have not noticed that the world population has doubled in the last 50 years. It’s all very well for people in affluent areas and countries to fart about with organic this and organic that but the whole reason, say in this country that we have such intensive rearing of animals and growing of crops is that there are 50+ million people on this little island.
I live out in Lincolnshire and see with my own eyes how food is grown. Eating fresh fruit and veg straight from the tree/plant is fantastic and the taste is superior (I have a small cottage style garden in my garden) but if everyone did this you wouldn’t have a countryside. I don’t think people realise the percentage of food that is airshipped in. We have Organic food shipped from Africa for instance. A continent that has millions dying of malnutrition is shipping organic this and that over, using a huge amount of fuel in the process just so that Tarquin in Islington gets his ‘organic’ out of season veg. Now what is ‘ethical’.
Another thing about organic fruit and veg is that, in my experience it just doesn’t have the shelf life of non organic. My veg garden gives me loads of lovely (organic) veg but in no way does the food remain in tip top condition for as long as supermarket veg does. Ever tried to grow cabbages ‘organically’? Everything in existence wants to eat it! No wonder they spray plants.
Personally I’m all for GM (so long as it’s deemed safe). Anything that can increase the yield in a given area. Most farmers get a pittance from supermarkets for their produce. A cabbage at £1.25 will be bought for about 2-5p and if the item isn’t selling the supermarket will send the whole lot back to the farmer stating some problem. No wonder farmers have to find ways to increase yield. Wonder why there aren’t any small farms left? It’s uneconomical.

If anyone is harping on about non organic farming harming the planet, any you have kids?… Population if anything is the killer of the planet, not intensive farming.

Member

I broadly agree with what you say, mose, though with GM crops we need to think about environmental issues as well as human safety.

I completely agree about the issue of population growth, but any efforts to tackle this in the western world would be seen as an infringement of personal freedom. Many of the issues we discuss on Which? Conversation would be of far less importance if the UK population was half the present number, and most of us pay little attention to what is happening elsewhere in the world.

It is about time we had some honest and balanced information about organic and non-organic produce.

Member

The environmental issue, yes, goes without saying.. No one wants to live in a toxic environment (thats why I moved out of London… hic! :-))

As for population, i don’t see it as an infringement on personal freedom to limit it, I just see it as common sense. It creates food shortages, political tension, etc. In the past we had war and disease to level things out, now what do we have. There are riots each year worldwide because production cannot keep up with demand. We are a rich nation. I doubt anyone needs to starve in this country but worldwide there is a real problem. Poor nations growing cash crops instead of staples to pay off their debts to the west (and starving in the process). So… when someone with 2 or 3 kids goes on about organic being better for the planet what they are really saying is I’m alright jack….

Member

What do you think is done here in this country over the vast majority of our “natural landscape”?

What you buy to ease your conscience will have no effect on the way most foods are currently produced. So coupled with the fact that the produce actually doesn’t taste better and is no less healthy for you, what does it matter?

Taking the moral high ground is more important to some people than others so just eat whatever you can afford or like, the world will keep on turning and food will continue to be mass produced because there will always be a demand for it.